Maybe you thought the Super Bowl would be your one respite from the political hamster wheel we’ve all been spinning on for the last several weeks. If there’s anything that can bring America together, it’s good old-fashioned football, right? Wrong.
Some advertisers decided to lean all the way into this year’s tense political climate, delivering emotional rebukes against sexism and xenophobia. In less contentious political years — which feel like ancient history by now — these commercials might have provoked a statement from One Million Moms, or an angry tweetstorm. This year, people are calling for full-on boycotts — or they’re pledging to support companies that previously might have held no interest for them. Bad or good, these ads got people talking.
There’s no ad that got more pre-game buzz than Budweiser’s controversial commercial, which made headlines for its sympathetic immigrant story just days after the president announced his travel ban. It’s a classic American story: Adolphus Busch endures a harsh and treacherous journey to set foot on foreign soil and pursue the American dream — brewing beer, in his case. Budweiser drinkers already tend to lean democratic, so the company must not have feared alienating a large portion of its customer base. Still, people have been calling for boycotts on social media. But many have praised the company for personifying the struggle of people who came to our country — a message that resonates even more, coming from such an all-American beer.
The home-sharing network made a pointed statement with an equality-themed ad supporting the company’s #weaccept campaign. The commercial is timely and poignant given the political climate, though it’s worth noting that the company has seen a fair share of criticism for racial bias among its users. Also worth noting: The only thing letting us know it was an AirBnb ad was the tiny logo that appeared at the end. The ad speaks for itself: “We believe that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept. #weaccept.”
A lumber company seemed an unlikely candidate for such a bold statement. Their ad follows a young Mexican girl and her mother who are trying to make it to America illegally — traveling in the back of a flatbed truck, in a boxcar train and by foot. Along the way, the girl collects little scraps of fabric and plastic. The commercial that aired during the game was initially rejected, and was edited to end with the mother and daughter still in transit — a cliffhanger. But when viewers went to 84lumber.com (when the site wasn’t crashing), they could see the full, nearly six-minute-long spot. For those who are sympathetic towards immigrants, it’s a tearjerker: They approach a massive, seemingly impenetrable border wall, and the mother’s face is stricken with despair. The daughter reaches into her backpack and pulls out a tiny, tattered American flag, made with all those scraps she’s been picking up. It seems like the end of the line for them, but they walk along the wall and find a massive door — made from wood supplied by 84 Lumber. It ends with them walking through the door, overlaid with the message: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
Google’s commercial brought us into people’s homes, representing a cross-section of America. We saw black, white, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino families; a rainbow, gay-pride flag; and a mezuzah, hung on the doorpost of Jewish houses. The ad ended with a surprise party, and a cake with the message “welcome home” written in frosting. It may not be as overt as the Budweiser and 84 Lumber commercials, but it’s not so subtle either — Google is telling us that everyone in America should feel warm and safe at home (where, preferably, you’re connected to a voice-activated Google device).
In Audi’s commercial, a father voices his fears for his daughter, competing against a bunch of boys in a soapbox car race: that she will never be seen as (or paid) equal to men. But it ends on a hopeful note. Dad wants to tell his daughter something different, and Audi affirms its commitment to equal pay — which wouldn’t have been such a political statement last year, but arriving on the heels of the Women’s Marches around the world, it’s meaningful.